Anna’s Story of Resilience and Gratitude

Anna Henderson, Heart Recipient

Anna Henderson's resilience became apparent even before her birth. During the pregnancy her parents, Melissa and Daniel, received the news that Anna had hypoplastic left heart syndrome. From that prenatal diagnosis to her 13th birthday celebration last year, Anna has undergone five open-heart surgeries. She has also faced complications resulting in paralysis of her vocal cord and diaphragm, recovered from a ruptured aorta and a stroke, and endured numerous procedures along with an extensive regimen of medications.

“She is an angel,” said Melissa Henderson. “I am thankful to be her mom. I would have never picked this journey, but I’m so glad I was chosen to be her mom.” 

Everything changed for Anna after her fourth open heart surgery—a simple heart catheterization that closed off the Fontan fenestration. This is what led to a rare condition called protein losing enteropathy, which prevented her body from absorbing nutrients and producing or storing the necessary proteins. This condition led to additional complications, ultimately requiring a heart transplant. 

The news of a heart donor brought a mix of emotions. “You are thinking about the donor family,” said Melissa. “You don’t want to accept the gift, but you need to accept the gift. And still praying for their family the whole time and grieving with them. We were also grieving her current heart.” Thanks to the donor family’s generous gift, Anna is thriving – which is remarkable considering that her first year of life was spent in the hospital. Last year, Anna completed her fifth-grade school year without a single hospital stay. 

Most importantly, the formidable challenges of her early years have not dampened Anna’s indomitable spirit. Today, she actively participates in her church and school choir, enjoys attending music concerts and tailgate parties, and competes in the Special Olympics. Melissa finds it difficult to express how grateful she is to the donor family. “I would hug them,” she said. “I’m a hugger. Words would be inadequate. It should say what the heart should say. There aren’t the right words. I would treat them as family and I don’t even know them.”